The Flavour of Truth

This is literally happening right now at universities across the world. Exactly this. There has been another round of discussion online about evil humanities professors disordering our political life by spreading pernicious relativism about truth and objectivity. I remain convinced that this is a distraction, that in fact none of our disputes in political and social life are actually about the nature of truth. Apparently I have not persuaded people! So today I try a different approach. I will try to persuade you that all the sorts of things people do to actually create trouble for claims of objective truth are, in the main, unobjectionable, or even where controversial not really the sort of thing that divides us politically. When philosophers discuss truth we have a stock example of a true sentence -- "snow is white". This is because of the role the claim played in a classic, really genre defining, paper by the polish logician Alfred Tarski . In the serene peace of academic

Facts vs Opinions

The American educational system teaches children to distinguish between "facts" and "opinions". A recent paper in Misinformation Review  has even made mastery of this distinction a marker of civic political competence. Per this paper facts are those statements that "can be proved or disproved with objective evidence" whereas opinions are those statements that "depend on personal values and preferences". I think this is a bogus distinction and should not have any role as a marker of political competence or as part of children's education.  Now, this is a topic other better philosophers have handled and I agree with their critiques. Corvino outlines the trouble with trying to draw the distinction in any coherent fashion. The NYT piece by McBrayer linked above correctly points out there is no way this could sensibly divide all claims in the manner sometimes suggested. Jenkins-Ichikawa points out the kind of category error involved, how the d

Race and Fantasy

Starting the year off right with a reactionary screed. One thing that regularly causes internet squabbles is casting of fantasy and sci-fi characters with non-white actors/actresses. There was a bit of that for the Lord of the Rings show on Amazon, a bit of that when Boyega was cast as Finn in Star Wars, and even (ok it's not really fantasy but whatever) with a recent adaptation of the Famous Five. Since I am a huge nerd these often revolve around worlds or settings that I am interested in. So in this blog post I will try and classify the different kind of settings that this sort of thing can happen in and my broad attitude to what's going on in these cases. Now, of course, anything can be done well and anything can be done poorly, so ultimately a lot will depend on skill of the person doing the adaptation. Still though I think there are facts about how settings work that push in certain directions, and these should at least be taken into account. Still unclear what I mean?

Philosophy vs Western Civilisation

A recent Matt Yglesias post  contained some discussion of concerns people have about the contemporary humanities. For those not subscribed he included a screenshot of the discussion in a recent tweet . The basic idea is that there are some core values underlying American society (the context from which he writes, but I think we can fairly generalise this to at least other liberal democracies) and that people expect educated people to be inculcated into these values. By way of example he mentions ideals of religious freedom and  "a philosophical lineage from Plato and Aristotle to Hobbes and Locke and Mill and Rawls". He says that while it is good to hear about radical critiques of such ideas and such a tradition, and that can even be from some who endorse the critiques (intelligent advocacy for the view points being a good way of hearing them at their strongest) in the end the broader society will not long put up with funding institutions that are too hostile to these things.

How I Am A Marxist

I wrote a piece before explaining why I do not endorse liberal politics or philosophy. One thing that came out of that was lots of people requesting I say something more positive. If I am not a liberal then what am I? Well I think the answer is Marxist, so I will take some time here to explain what I mean by that. Initially I thought this would also involve arguments for my view but this is already far too long. So as it stands I will just spell out the sort of things I agree to in virtue of being a Marxist (or, rather, the things that make me a Marxist in virtue of agreeing to them) and save for a later date discussion of why I think thy are true and how they contrast with liberal political thought. I will spatter illustrative links throughout though to sources that would follow up on or exemplify the connected ideas. So what do I mean by Marxism? I am probably less fussy about this than some out there but I think we can list some core doctrines usually associated with Marxism and th

Arguments in Philosophy

One thing that is supposed to be distinctive of analytic philosophy is the dedication to providing rigorous argumentation in favour of clearly stated theses. Arguments here being understood as articulated premises whose joint plausibility, and demonstrated logical relationship to the conclusion, significantly raises the plausibility of that conclusion -- ideally deductively entailing it. Let's set aside how distinctive this ideal really is (surely some scholastic and Nyāya philosophers would protest!) and just think about the ideals themselves. I have commented on these standards before, by and large positively. On the whole I think it is a genuine intellectual good to try very hard to make people understand what you are saying and why it might be worth believing. And yet. I have always been a little bit uncomfortable with the role of argumentation in analytic philosophy, and today I think I will spell out why, and in the end maybe even reconcile my discomfort with my admiratio

On Not Believing In One's Work

 For a while now I have been unable (unwilling is what I should say, but from the inside it feels stronger than that) to really commit to doing philosophy research. (I have stuff from before this in the pipeline so it might not be obvious from the outside that I have not been doing new work, but to those who know me this is not news.) The basic issue is that I do not think my work is good or interesting. I have posted about this briefly before but there was an important difference between then and now. The LSE is unusual among British schools in  having something like a tenure institution - there is a review I must pass which, upon being passed, renders it very difficult indeed to fire me, so long as I still do the basics of my job. Since I have now passed this review, the extremely strong instrumental reason I had to publish despite my self-assessment has vanished. As such, where before I thought my work worthless but kept producing it in miserable bad faith, now I can simply follow